Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What's for School Lunch?

Anybody else school lunch-crazed thanks to Jamie Oliver's new show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution"? I'm lovin' it! (No, the irony that "I'm lovin' it!" is McD's slogan is not lost on me. ;)) We watched it on the big screen at my BFF's place last Friday and by the end of the second hour, all four of us parents were hooked. Have you signed Jamie's petition to improve school food, include cooking skills in elementary education programs, and increase funding for healh and food education?

My BFF is sending her son to a public school this fall that uses Aramark foods, so I've been doing some research and I'm not loving what I'm hearing about not disclosing ingredients...?!?! :o Spawn has to avoid red and yellow dye due to his ADHD, but companies like Aramark are not required by the USDA to disclose the entire contents due to the need to keep proprietary recipes a secret because some other company might steal them?!?! Honestly, who's going to steal a recipe for a food item sold in a school cafeteria? :p Bizarre reasoning if you ask me. :p And parents should KNOW what their kids are eating at school!!!

I find it fascinating what kids all around the world are eating for lunch. The USA school lunches tend to be the saddest, grossest, most nutritionally deficient, and wasteful and I wonder why when so many schools are funded by gov't programs to provide balanced meals. Why can't those meals be delicious as well as healthy? Who decided pizza constitutes two different servings of grains? And what child needs two servings of grains in one meal? We know too many carbs aren't good for small children. Those guidelines were set in 1973, for goodness sake! It's time for the lunch program to catch up! 

"Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet." Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery. Forget what you packed or planned for lunch today. Tomorrow is a fresh start. What can you do to make your child's school lunch better? Do you pack, buy, or eat at home? How about your own lunch at work or home? Do you pick and graze or plan lunch daily? What works for you and how can you improve on it?

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Happy Birthday to CS Dad!

Monday was CS Dad's big 38th birthday! We were understandably proccupied celebrating, so here's to you, belatedly, honey!

If I were a better baker, I'd have made you a lovely Steal Your Face or Dancing Bear cake like this one. ;) Count your blessings and consider it a gift that I didn't bake you anything and saved you a trip to the ER in the process. =D

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom and Devoted, Loving Wife (Mwahaha! CS Dad is waiting for the other shoe to drop as we speak. Paranoid, Tater? ;))

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spring has Sprung!

Yes, yes, of course, it says "First Day of Spring" on your calendar, but have you seen any real signs of spring yet? We did yesterday and there's just no better way to start the season of renewal and rebirth than with some of this most auspicious first sign of spring...

Thankfully, they did have one flavor without red or yellow dye at the location we went to yesterday (not the same location as the one we went to last year that had blueberry AND cookies and cream available that day). Spawn enjoyed his coconut italian ice very much! The parking lot was a madhouse and there wasn't a bench to be had anywhere, so we slurped ours down in the car with the windows down and Jimmy Buffett on the stereo. =D

But not before we took this pic of Spawn in front of his Aunt Dani's favorite and long-lamented A-Treat soda machine. A-Treat is, apparently, something you can't get outside the Lehigh Valley and Aunt Dani lurves the grapefruit-flavored A-Treat, so we took this pic in her honor in front of the beer distributor next door to Rita's. ;)

CS Dad was diggin' the rootbeer italian ice he ordered. He got a huge italian ice compared to Spawn and I. Don't know what that was about. Spawn and I were both served ours in tiny little 10 oz. cups and CS Dad's was served in a big 12 oz. cup. :p

On a personal note, thank the powers that be that CS Dad's birthday is tomorrow (the 22nd). He'll be shaving off that nasty Grizzly Adams beard for the year finally. Woot! I don't care how soft and furry you think it looks, this does not make my heart go pitty-pat:

It's pokey and scratchy and it smells like everything that's fallen into it and gotten stuck this winter. :p And he washes it with my pricey Garnier Fructis shampoo. Yuck. :p Boys are gross. :p

Anywho, I LOVED my wild black cherry italian ice. CS Dad snapped this pic of me digging in before we'd even rolled the windows down all the way. I was having a pretty hardcore Rita's craving all winter. What can I say? ;)

Mine and Spawn's both had real fruit in it. I had nice big pieces of juicy cherries and Spawn's had slivers of real coconut in it.

Did you get your free Rita's on the first day of spring? What's your flavor of choice? They introduced a new flavor here yesterday - Peeps. Blech. Not interested. None of us were even willing to try it.

This doesn't even scratch the surface of how we spent our first day of spring and Ostara. More to come on that later this week, but rest assured it was a busy day and I took tons of pictures!!! =D

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson is on to something...

It occured to me recently that not only are we still relying on an outdated agrarian school calendar created in the 1940's, but the entire existing school system was originally designed to prepare children for a manufacturing job in the 1940's. That would have been an advancement from a potential life of drudgery as a farmhand to a manufacturing job with set hours and guaranteed pay. Everything we did in school from the 50's to the 90's prepared us for the next step - away from the farms. But few of us live on farms any longer. The school system is lagging behind and failing children by not finding their strengths and applying their education to the area of intelligence/interest/skill of each individual child. Sir Ken Robinson touches on it just briefly on today's Bonnie Hunt Show: 

Sir Ken Robinson on The Bonnie Hunt Show

How do you feel about the education your child is getting today? Are you pleased with the offerings at your child's school? Do you know what the education they're getting today is preparing them for? Is it a manufacturing job? Is it college? Is it a trade? What additional skills are they learning to feed their creativity when art and music are being pulled from curriculums to save money? Does your child's teacher know your child at all? Are they trying to tailor their curriculum to each child in their classroom by focusing on each child's individual interests? If you went to your child's school superintendent, could you ask those questions and expect an answer in person or any answer at all?

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My Letter to the Editor... response to the cyber school series that ran earlier this week in one of our local papers, the Express-Times.

Cyber Schools Blazing the Trail on Education Reform

What say you, Cyber School Mom Diaries readers?

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Poorly Conceived Solution is No Solution at All

The third part of the cyber series from the Express-Times: School districts look to retain students by offering own alternatives to cyber schools - Part 3 of 3

I went to the VLINC meeting that Bangor School District held in January. I was appalled at what they were trying to pass off as a reasonable alternative to traditional cyber charter schools. I am shocked that after that meeting, there were actually parents who were willing to move their kids to that program. It makes me wonder what kind of cyber schools they came from. :o Though, honestly, some of the parents surprised me at that meeting. One mother even said she resented having to educate her own children. :o What kind of place do I live in where people would say that about their own children?

Imagine my surprise this winter, when I was invited by the Bangor Area School District to an informational meeting about a new cyber school option they were offering! I know what’s involved in the cyber school process after nearly 3 full years of cyber schooling Spawn. I was skeptical that Bangor could compete at a wholesale level as well as our cyber school with their offerings.

I was correct to be leery. The meeting began with a representative from the school (Bangor Area Assistant Superintendent Patricia Mulroy, I think) standing up and saying they know they’ve failed us in some way and that they have to work to get us back. She also mentioned how poor the district was in her opening statement to the assembled cyber school parents. When the meeting was opened up to Q&A, we asked common questions that we would ask while interviewing any cyber school - about attendance, teachers, funding, and again and again were told by Mary Beth Bianco, assistant executive director for IU 20, and Ms. Mulroy that they could not answer our questions. Was this informational meeting convened just so we could sit there and stare at each other then?! 

The few questions that were answered baffled me – students and parents wouldn’t have direct phone access to teachers if they had questions. The questions could be called in or emailed to a guidance counselor who would forward them to the teacher – after school hours because, of course, the school wouldn’t be employing teachers solely to cater to those cyber-schooled during daytime hours. Cyber-schooled students enrolled in the IU’s program would be second-class students whose education was secondary to those who attend brick and mortar schools because those brick and mortar teachers would be offered the chance to ‘pick up’ classes for a little extra money. It is possibly one of the most poorly conceived concepts for a cyber school system that I’ve ever seen. I wish I could tell you more, but no more information was made available at the meeting and I'm the parent who asked most of the questions. I was very disappointed - especially since there was so little information about VLINC available online.

At this ‘informational’ meeting, I asked Ms. Bianco if there was a sample student account available to view so I could see the interface the IU was using. At first, I was told no. Just no, but then the IU representatives relented and 'tried to find a way around it' because the interface and vendor is dependent on the teacher(s) the student is assigned to. So, my son could potentially have to learn how to use multiple interfaces through multiple vendors based on the classes and variety of teachers assigned to him by a guidance counselor who doesn’t even know him?1?! :o

Then, another IU representative told me she’d figure something out and asked me to sit with her while she tried to log in to an administrator account. Not a student account. When she did finally find a student account view, it was of a 4th grade lesson – not 2nd grade so I could compare apples to apples with the lessons my son is currently taking. What a poorly planned attempt to bring students back! While I waited indefinitely to get a look at a sample interface, parents paired up with guidance counselors to set up a meeting at the school to get more information. (ARE YOU FREAKIN’ KIDDING ME? I went to one informational meeting already and got no answers!) By the time I was done looking at the interface on Blended Schools (which didn't thrill me), all the guidance counselors who had come to speak to parents had set up their meetings and left - I guess no one wanted to take my meeting. ;) Except the one guidance counselor I know because we've been friends since junior high. Unfortunately, she doesn't work at the elementary level at Bangor, so I couldn't set up another informational meeting with her to find out more either.

I was given an informational packet (a folder full of handouts). In the folder, one side pocket was filled with about 20 pages to inform me of the process to re-enroll my child. (This would be an appropriate spot to roll your eyes - I did.) On the other side of the folder were 3 pieces of paper – one was a mis-informational handout of myths and misconceptions about cyber schooling that someone copied word-for-word from a book, one was a single sheet, photocopied pamphlet about the IU’s VLINC program, and one was another page about re-enrollment. No joke. It’s all about numbers in this district. Bangor has a lot of nerve complaining about the quality of cyber schools considering the poorly conceived alternative they’re offering!

But the big selling point of this meeting was that as “Bangor” students, children who were enrolled in the IU’s charter through Bangor would be able to participate in activities after school at Five Points and Dominic DeFranco and the students would end their years of schooling with a Bangor diploma.

First, how can you offer extra-curriculars if you’re canceling/scaling back programs like art and music class to save money? As a resident of the district, my son already qualifies to participate in any sports that are offered. (That's why the district of residence gets to keep 28% of the state funds per child.) Second, why on earth would I want “Bangor Area School District” on my son’s high school diploma instead of "Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School"? Choosing a charter school shows prospective colleges that someone cared enough to do the research and give their child the best education possible.

Is it any surprise that I would choose not to enroll my son in Bangor public schools? In the past year, one teacher has OD’d on heroine and a teacher’s aide has been forced to resign due to a pornography scandal. When I was in school, one of my best friends shot himself in the head in the vice principal's office. The current superintendent, Mr. Rinehart, who was my principal at Five Points 23 years ago, is resigning at the end of this year in an effort to save the district money so they might not have to cut teacher salaries. They are sacrificing their most experienced educators because it’s just a numbers game to the district.

Let me finish this by reiterating - at any time, if someone from the Bangor School District had come to me and said, "We're researching alternatives to cyber schooling - an alternative for students to attend through their home district - and we'd like your feedback as a cyber school family to help us improve the quality of the cyber alternative offerings.", I'd have jumped at  the chance to help them come up with a real solution. But this VLINC thing, it's a knee-jerk reaction to the school's new need to compete with radical educational change. Cyber schools are creating an education revolution and I'm concerned that the traditional public schools would rather rant and rave at the radicals who are improving the system through competition than try to effect change themselves and provide children from the Slate Belt with a better education.
Chrissi, Cyber School Mom

Monday, March 1, 2010

You Misguided, Ill-informed, Ignorant Fools!!!

Oh, yeah, you knew there was more...I have nothing but contempt for my local public school officials. >:(

Abuse Among Cyber Schools is Rampant, According to Some Officials - Part 2 of 3

RAMPANT?! Seriously, that's the word your marrying yourselves to? Ugh...I am so disgusted! >:(

Who are these officials and why don't they speak for themselves? Could it be because they're lying and they have no ideawhether it's rampant or not because they haven't taken the time to check their facts? Their ire is just another misguided, knee-jerk reaction to something that could improve education, but reduce the educational workforce by as much as 50%. That's right - cyber schools could be saving taxpayers 50% or more on their property taxes!!!

Stirring the Pot,
Chrissi, Cyber School Mom


Cyber Schools Costly, Ineffective, Public School Officials Say - Part 1 of 3

Thoughts, comments, appropriately angry rebuttals? ;)

Chrissi, Cyber School Mom
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